Advice for dealing with our wedding photographer?
February 22, 2016 2:45 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I are in the midst of a back-and-forth with our wedding photographer because we're not happy with the image deliverables we were given. While the subjects/scenes in the photos are great, the quality is way below what we were expecting. We wanted advice on how to reason with our photographer because we believe we have legitimate concerns that aren't being handled correctly.

Per our contract, we were promised "high-res photos" which I interpreted as industry-standard high-resolution -- where we'd be getting large, 10-25mb-range files. Instead, we recieved images that were ~3mb in size. For comparison, my iPhone takes files this size.

I asked out photographer about her workflow and she said that she resizes the photos when converting from RAW to JPEG to a 300dpi, 3500x3500px (depending on ratio) frame. From Lightroom, those images are exported into Photoshop where additional edits are made and finally exported. She must be using a bunch of compression, because the images viewed at 100% appear a bit blurry.

Because of this workflow, it would require a complete re-mastering of every file. We really want unscaled photos with a reasonable, level 12 JPG compression. We'd be happy just getting the originals (RAW) but our photographer is unwilling to release them. That's fine. We suggested we'd also be happy with her re-mastering 80 or so of our favorite photos and we'd pay her for her $500 for additional time (for reference, the whole wedding photo package was $2,200 for two photographers and edits). Her response was that because of the time needed to re-master to our specifications, she'd have to charge $15 per image. That doesn't sound reasonable to us.

Our thought is that she should have produced acceptable-quality images to begin with or had a workflow that could enable her to produce better-quality exports upon request. As of now, we're unable to order professional prints due to size/quality warnings on multiple websites. Our photographer is hyper-defensive about her deliverables saying that they should print fine with one of her two suggested printing companies. She said that none of her other clients have ever had an issue with size and quality, suggesting that I'm totally in the wrong.

Does anyone have any thoughts on what to do here? Any advice on how to speak with our photographer moving forward? These photos are very important to us and I want to make sure we're able to get the highest quality photos available without paying a ransom.

posted by evanm to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is she balking at releasing the RAW because they're her IP? Could you offer her $500 with some sort of rights waiver that asserts you won't use them for anything other than personal use?
posted by Jacob G at 3:01 PM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Have you guys talked in person while looking at these photos? It almost sounds like she thinks she sent you one thing but you received another. I wonder if there were any errors during her resizing/compression process and she doesn't realize how small the photos are. I hardly think anyone would be happy to pay that much and receive iphone sized photos. Could you print one out at the size you want and show her how bad it looks? Maybe frame the conversation like there could've been a computer glitch or something, not that it's her process that's wrong.
posted by monologish at 3:06 PM on February 22, 2016 [16 favorites]

That file size is not out of the range of reasonableness for a nominal 12MP image; I have a professional school portrait that is 2.1 MB for a 7MP image and doesn't have apparent artifacts. 10MB for a JPEG would be huge, like 40MP+, which you simply would not be getting credibly without a medium format camera. Without seeing crops of the image it's hard to tell if the issue is a low JPEG quality setting or something else. Nothing you've said would explain why you would get a resolution warning, since, e.g., Costco recommends a 16x20 poster-size print have a 2400x3000 minimum resolution. Are you printing something larger than that? The other thing to remember is that all megapixels are *not* created equal. The iPhone is a fine camera in good light, but the quality of a full-frame SLR is going to be significantly higher, pixel for pixel.

I'm not a professional photographer, but it seems odd that they scale down and convert to JPEG when Photoshop has been able to read RAW files since at least CS 5. Maybe there's a reason to use Lightroom to do this? I understand why they won't give you the unedited versions, because that leaves them open to "look what a lousy job so-and-so did". My guess is the $15 is the price to re-process through Lightroom and re-do all the editing, basically starting from scratch. Is it possible that "fuzzy" is their flattering style, like the vaseline-smeared lenses of old? Again, you're not going to be getting resolution warnings at 3000x3000 unless you're trying to print something really big.
posted by wnissen at 3:15 PM on February 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

I would print a couple images from her recommended source and then if they come back with unacceptable quality I would show them to her.
posted by teamnap at 3:16 PM on February 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

I agree with having something printed and showing her how it looks in person. Our wedding photos are around this size/resolution, and we haven't had any issues with printing them and having them look really good. So it could be something else wrong with the images other than the file size.
posted by rainbowbrite at 3:17 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Semi-professional wedding photographer here. 30-40 weddings total.

A little weird that she's not giving you photos at native resolution. She should just be able to uncheck a box and reprocess to get full resolution photos. You'd lose the spot corrections for blemishes and such that she does in photoshop.

The resolution is pretty reasonable for big prints to say, 16x24in, so unless you're looking to go bigger than that or crop in tighter, you shouldn't worry about it.
posted by thenormshow at 3:19 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't know anything about photography, but it sounds to me like there is a bid of $6.25/per print for the redo prints and an offer of $15/print. Somewhere in the middle is probably the price at which this can get done. Before I started negotiating any further, I would, as suggested above, print a few including blowing some up to see what happens in reality versus what happens in theory.
posted by AugustWest at 3:26 PM on February 22, 2016

I actually come down kind of on your photographer's side, though I wish for everyone's sake that "high resolution" had been clarified from the beginning. ("High resolution" is a term that doesn't actually objectively mean anything, so you don't have a lot of leverage if that's what the term was in the contract. I would probably have wanted something more specific had it been me, but I can also totally understand how in the planning and run-up for a wedding you're going to miss a detail or two.) Here's my line of thinking, which may help you understand a bit of where your photographer is coming from:

The resolution she's giving you is, genuinely, likely to be perfectly good for any printing use you intend to put it to. Especially if it's downscaled from a higher-resolution image, a process which is very effective at removing a lot of minor image defects that arise as a result of pushing the limits of the lens and sensor on the camera. (For a professional-grade camera, the sensor and to a lesser degree lenses are configured to be able to capture the maximum amount of image data possible under ideal conditions. Outside of a studio those conditions rarely prevail, so a lot of what you see when you pixel-peep at a full-res image file is blurriness and other artifacts that effectively disappear when you scale down a bit.) Those downscaled images may be smaller than what came out of the camera's sensor, but every pixel is going to be worth printing. Given that, 3000x3500 is a very usable resolution. 300dpi is generally considered to be comfortably enough for prints that are viewed at "reading" distance—retina displays generally shoot for a resolution of around 300ppi, for instance—which at 3000x3500 will get you up to a nice big 10"x11.67" photo print. For larger prints that are meant to be viewed from farther away than arm's reach—poster-viewing distance, essentially—the standard as I understand it is generally 150dpi. At 150dpi, your prints would be 20"x23.33", which again is pretty respectable. You could probably even go a bit bigger than that without noticing any blurriness. So maybe 3000x3500 resolution, in a photo that was shot on a good camera by a professional and professionally processed, is something you can live with. I would be OK with it personally, but of course it wasn't my wedding.

As far as prices, I again don't think your photographer is being that unreasonable. Looking at it from your photographer's perspective, she's being asked to re-do a bunch of work in a non-standard way and with a stipulation (original image resolution) that is going to make her life significantly harder. Higher-resolution images are inherently more awkward to work with. They also have more visible blemishes than downscaled images, which will take extra time and care to deal with. Some of the full-res images may not even be acceptably sharp, period, even if they look totally fine when downscaled to 3000x3500. Keep in mind as well that if she's a busy photographer then you're asking her to either work overtime or push aside her commitments to her other clients—something which any contractor worth his or her salt is generally happy to do, but only for a price. I could easily see each photo taking an average of a half hour to do, if she were to go back and re-do them to your desired standard. She likely was thinking about all of that when she came up with a figure of $15/photo.

You're currently offering $6.25/photo, and I think it's understandable that your photographer is going to balk at that rate. There is almost certainly some room for negotiation, though! For instance, do you really need 80 photos at higher resolution? Are you going to ever actually view or print 80 of your photos in such a way that they would benefit noticeably from being higher-res? What if you offered $500 for 40 of your favorite photos instead? That would get you up to $12.50/photo, which she might go for. Or maybe you could offer her something like $12.50 or $13/photo and then decide how many photos you realistically want to pay that rate for.

There's probably room for a workable compromise here, if you can be flexible. I think you can afford to be flexible, especially given that you don't sound like you really have a lot of leverage here.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:31 PM on February 22, 2016 [11 favorites]

The resolution she's giving you is, genuinely, likely to be perfectly good for any printing use you intend to put it to.

I think this is a point of contention, as the OP is getting warning messages for printing, which means the prints won't be high quality. OP -- I agree you should try printing some, and then show them to your photographer if they do indeed come out blurry. You can work from there, maybe there was some computer/software error, or maybe some other easily fixed problem. Or maybe they will be great. But you need to first confirm whether there is a problem.
posted by JenMarie at 4:06 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

The newest iPhones have an 8MP camera and these typically compress down to less than 2MB. What you are getting sounds about right to me. I don't know what the original image sizes were or what your idea of "high resolution" is, but 300dpi for 8 1/2 x 11 prints (which is more or less what you are getting) should be fine.

What warnings are you getting when you try to print these images?
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 4:23 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Jacob G: "Is she balking at releasing the RAW because they're her IP? "

She's balking at releasing RAWs because a RAW file looks like crap and isn't a finished photograph. Clients ask for RAWs all the time and only photographers who don't care about their reputation would ever give them out.

Is there some reason you aren't using her recommended printing vendor? Getting a couple prints made from her recommended vendor that were of poor quality would give you a lot of leverage to ask for a discount on her RAW processing rate.

evanm: "Her response was that because of the time needed to re-master to our specifications, she'd have to charge $15 per image. That doesn't sound reasonable to us."

$15 dollar per sounds not completely out of line. That is probably less than $100/hr not including time for three more client meetings.
posted by Mitheral at 4:41 PM on February 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

where we'd be getting large, 10-25mb-range files

As a frame of reference, the Nikon D4, which is a model I'd expect a photographer in your price range to be using, creates 20MB RAW files.

She must be using a bunch of compression, because the images viewed at 100% appear a bit blurry.

It's possible that the photos may just have a little blur as taken.

Without seeing the photos in question, it's not really possible to know what the problem is. What she says is true; you should be able to get decent quality prints from the file size and quality she's giving you. Have you shown the photos to anyone else and had them complain about the quality?
posted by Candleman at 5:06 PM on February 22, 2016

She must be using a bunch of compression, because the images viewed at 100% appear a bit blurry.

JPEG compression doesn't make images blurry, in fact the "ringing" JPEG artifacts at low quality compression levels are quite distinctive. Also, sizing images down, as she is doing, makes images smaller but sharper (at the new 100%). I would suggest that any blurriness is due to focus problem, not enough of depth of field available, camera shake or subject motion. Note that when someone is running around doing a lot of shots in natural light it is normal for some of them to be unsharp for these reasons - not every frame is going to be perfect but you try to shoot enough to get enough good shots.

Personally I would want the RAWs, but then I like messing with images in Photoshop & Aperture and I'm used to working from RAWs.
Asking for native res JPEGs would also be reasonable.
However, like I said, I don't think that will fix the shots that currently look blurred to you at 100% on screen. It would allow for better prints than you have now, though, of the sharp ones.
posted by w0mbat at 5:13 PM on February 22, 2016

Best answer: Okay. There's a lot going on here, and a lot of assumptions. Since I don't have access to the files, I can't say what's going on. Let me see if I can tally up your assumptions:

1) High resolution photos should be big!

Response: Not necessarily. I can compress the same 36 megapixel image into a JPEG that's 3 MB or one that's 18.7 MB, and most viewers would be hard-pressed to tell the difference, viewing at 100% actual pixels, on my screen. If you want, I can send you an example of this. Size is not a function of actual pixel dimensions, it's a function of the degree of compression. Once an image has been RAW developed and edited, it can be compressed much further because you no longer need the editing flexibility. The fact that your iPhone takes photos that size is because your iPhone is shooting JPEGs with compression baked right in. You can use apps that take RAW photos and give you a consequently larger file. I can have my 36 megapixel DSLR take 50 MB RAWs or have it take JPEGs at about 5 MB, or do both at the same time.

2) Photo pixel dimensions. She's resizing to approx 3500x3500, and then it looks blurry.

Response: Hmm. Most digital photos, at high resolution, do not necessarily look good when viewed at 100%. Again, I could show you examples. You can't see prints at pixel level detail, because you're printing at 300 pixels per inch. Usually, because if I hit "view print size" in photoshop, on my 2560x1440 monitor, the aforementioned images are shown at 24-30%. You never view images at pixel size in real life. Your phone photos will look disappointing at that size, but you expect it. If you are in a studio and taking phenomenal care and are using $2,000+ lenses and really taking your time and have your camera firmly bolted to a tripod, are shooting at 100 ISO and the image is very well lit, maybe you get sharp pixel level detail. Maybe. Depending. This is all obviously not the case in a wedding. Do the photos look very sharp when viewed at 25-50%? If so, then you should be fine. Blurry at 100% doesn't really necessarily mean what you think it does.

Now, like I said, I don't have your images, so I don't know what's going on. You say she said they're resized to approx 3500x3500. The question is, did she crop at all? Obviously she did, if the aspect ratio is anything other than 4:3 for Micro 4/3rds format or other than 3:2 for most APS-C or full-frame cameras. The cameras have crop modes, too, but it's not likely that she's toggling that between each shot. In any case, it will reduce your pixel count. Perhaps she's upscaling the photos to hit that resolution, especially if she's cropping. Cropping is normal, and I did plenty of it for the weddings I shot. But when you upscale, even if you use a good algorithm, it's never as sharp as the actual pixels would have been. If she's upscaling the images, then, yeah, it may very well look blurrier at the pixel level. Again, a reason why the pixel level view is not necessarily informative. It won't be WORSE quality for upscaling, though it will not hold up as well when printing huge.

Assumption 3: You want unscaled photos with "reasonable level 12 JPEG compression", or would be happy with RAWs.

Response: Nope, photographers don't want to give you RAWs. It's the same reason why photographers don't put all their photos they ever snapped on their websites. Some of my RAWs don't look great. Sometimes that's deliberate: I exposed the photo to look much better after some RAW adjustment. It can easily make her look like a bad photographer if you don't understand this, and many customers won't. She wouldn't want to bet on it. Second, level 12 JPEG compression is not reasonable. I don't use it when I deliver people images. Why? Because while there may be a difference between 3MB images and 5MB images, there's not enough of a difference between 5MB images and 18MB images to justify it. Again, my camera will shoot a JPEG at 5MB and I can export the RAW from Photoshop at a variety of sizes, and the JPEG setting at 12MB is laughably diminishing returns. It's not a reasonable choice; I myself don't use it much. That having been said: I don't understand how the websites can be flagging these files as unacceptable. Do you know the actual pixel dimensions of these? image viewing applications can tell you what they are. As far as I know, the printing websites look only for pixel count - they should only be flagged if there aren't enough pixels to print at that size. So I'm wondering if you did get low-resolution images. I always try to give clients a set of native resolution photos - the actual resolution after crops - and a set of lower-resolution ones for social media and the like. Not sure what's going on here without more detail.

Assumption 4: "Re-Mastering Charge" is too high!

Response: This one, I don't see where she's coming from on, and I do think you're being overcharged. I avoid using Photoshop as much as I can, trying to do everything in Lightroom, mostly for convenience. That said, you can just have the changes saved back into Lightroom, so you're using Lightroom's batch export function rather than opening every image back in Photoshop. If you came to me with this, I'd explain these things, and if you weren't satisfied with my explanations, I'd re-export everything in a batch and then go off and eat a sandwich or something, then charge you for the time I actually spent doing work. It shouldn't be $15 per photo, because the time spent should be mostly computer processing time, and even if she's charging $100 an hour it shouldn't take that long. This is just re-exporting. This is not hard. Even doing it in photoshop can be automated in a variety of ways. Again, I don't have actual details here, but it sounds like she's inefficient on the back end and is passing that charge on to you.

TL;DR it sounds like you have some misconceptions about what to expect, but at the same time her process is kinda crappy. From each other's perspective, you're both being difficult. The advice to print and show output is not a bad idea, but it only works if you're printing huge. Did she give you an idea of what to expect? I tell clients you can print the photos I take at 24x36". That's huge compared to most, and it's setting the expectation early. What did she tell you?

MeMail me if you need to hear more detail or want to see those JPEG comparisons, but I have shot weddings and know the technical details.
posted by Strudel at 5:24 PM on February 22, 2016 [12 favorites]

The pixel thing has already been covered, but when I take pictures from my 12MP Nikon DSLR by the time I get save my final JPEG at 100% fidelity it often is about 3 MP. If the image is blurry at 100% that's most likely the image being out of focus. I would try making a copy of the image, resizing it to be 72 DPI and about half its size. Then I would save it with as little compression as possible and look at it at 100%. I wouldn't expect all my wedding photos to be in perfect focus, but if they were all out of focus I would be pissed.
posted by xammerboy at 8:23 AM on March 7, 2016

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